You’re listening to Infatuated, the podcast for romance readers who just can’t get enough.
I’m your host, Sue Brown-Moore, and today I’m talking about four romance books that will make you a better person. Obviously you have to read them, but you’re going to love them. These are some of my favorite books lately and I just loved them so much and they made such an impact on my personal life in the way I see things. And, oh, I can’t even! We’re going to talk about that.
OK. But first I just want to say thank you to all my regular listeners out there. If you’re following us through a subscription or through one of the podcasting platforms then you know that we haven’t been super regular lately. And it just is what it is. But what I’m trying to do is get out Season 2 and I thought that I was done with Season 1, and I thought, we’re going to go ahead and record all these great Season 2 episodes which are going to be fantastic. I’m really excited, you guys are going to love these. Season 2 is basically me and my friend Sheryl, who is my frequent co-host. We’re going to talk about two books every episode. The season’s called Duets and we’ve already recorded a few of these, and we’ve got lots more great books coming, but just a preview of the authors that you’re going to get to hear… Katie Robert, Alexa Martin, Tiffany Riesz, Laura Kaye… To be clear they’re not going to be on the podcast—for this season it’s just me and Sheryl, but we’re going to talk about some of these fantastic books.
But going back to Season 1, I am unexpectedly continuing Season 1. I thought I was done recording these, but then I had a second wind, and I didn’t want to make you guys wait. So, this episode I’m super excited about. It was inspired by diversity, by all the discussion that’s going around about diversity right now. This is such a big topic in romancelandia. And I think it’s important that we talk about it.
I think it’s also important that we recognize that we throw this term around a lot. We say, ‘diversity so important and we should recognize it.’ And there’s this discussion around being colorblind, or recognizing that there’s all these different ways people perceive and handle racism, bigotry, the whole spectrum of things that come along with that. This episode is not going to really talk about those things. When I say four romance books that are gonna make you a better person. I just mean… it helped me.
These books opened my eyes. They made me feel, as a person, I had a better grasp of what other people are going through, and I really think that is where we start understanding. That is where the whole discussion about diversity needs to start. We need to understand each other. And you really can’t understand what you don’t experience unless you expose yourself to it.
So I’m going to skip right ahead to book number one. There’s four books on this list today. The first one was recommended to me by a fellow blogger Suzanne Krohn from LoveinPanels.com. We met at RWA this year at Blogger Day and we had a fantastic discussion—the whole group had a great discussion—about diversity and how if we are not actually promoting diverse romance, then we are part of the problem. And I’ve heard that before.
It’s political season, so you’re probably hearing that a lot actually, but it hadn’t really hit home with me until I listened to the discussion. Other bloggers, people like me who had similar opinions… If you follow my reviews and you follow my podcast, we don’t do a ton of diverse romance. I do a lot of gay romance because that’s what I like to read. That’s what I edit, that’s what I acquire, but in my personal likes, I have somewhat of a narrow view of what I tend to gravitate to, and I tend to review what I like what I read. And this question just really opened my eyes to the fact that they’re right.
I have a platform. You guys are listening to me right now. I do have a responsibility to at least try other things to see what I like. I don’t have to like everything, but who knows, right? And if I do like something, I’ve found a new genre, a new trope, a new set of themes that I can explore that I can share with you, and that’s me contributing and not being part of the problem. The problem being we’re only promoting the things that are traditional: cis, white, het, Christian, able-bodied, well-minded.
You get it, right? I would say that the majority of the population probably doesn’t fit all of those perfect things. All heroines, all people in life are not size 4 with a perfect body. And we are starting to see more diversity in romance. But as bloggers it’s part of our responsibility to get out there and see what else we can help promote. And I am so thankful for that discussion and I just wanted to give a shout out to Love In Panels for recommending this book to me, which was The Year We Fell Down, by Sarina Bowen. I had already read book 3 in the series, because I’m a hockey fan.
I love me some hockey. I love me hockey romance, and the third book in the series is a gay hockey romance, which is like the ultimate for me, because it’s gay romance which I love and hockey romance which I adore. So I had already read that, and I kind of forgot that I had read it because I read it in sort of a blitz of gay hockey romances about a year ago, and when I started reading through the series and I got to that one, I realized, ‘oh my god, I love this book, I’m so glad!’
But even more than that, the first one, The Year We Fell Down—I adore the hell out of this book. I never would have read it on my own if someone hadn’t said, “No seriously.” Seriously. Susanne’s like, “No, you need to read this book.” All right, all right, I’ll try! And I was hooked from the beginning. One, it’s Sarina Bowen, and I am such a fan of her work in general. Everybody has those authors where you’ll pretty much buy everything they write, and not every single book is going to be a perfect fit. And that’s true of every author. There’s no author out there that I’ve loved every single book. But Sarina is one of those few, the select few for me, where I will basically try anything that she does, and even though is heavily New Adult.
And it does have a lot of angst in it. It’s got these overwhelming themes of positivity and acceptance and the struggle is so real. OK so let’s talk about the book. The heroine is paralyzed. She’s in a wheelchair and she has some feeling below her waist, but not equal between both her legs, and she can’t walk. She can kind of walk on crutches if she wears the right kind of brace and she’s careful, but stairs are just not happening and moving around is hard.
She has challenges in her everyday, like anyone who is paralyzed from below the waist. How do you handle basic bodily functions? How do you take showers? How do you use the restroom? How do you move through your day? How do you navigate a world that is made for people who walk? And those are all things that you don’t think about until you see the struggle that happens to people who do have to deal with this. This is their life and what I loved about the set up for this book is not only is the heroine disabled but the hero kind of is too.
So he’s had an accident doing something stupid. Before the hockey season starts, he’s the captain of the hockey team or something like that, and he’s been in an accident so he’s in a cast. He’s walking on crutches. So this guy can’t walk unassisted either. I mean without the crutches. So he’s really not doing stairs or anything, you know, active either. The two of them live across the hall from each other—they’re in one of the accessibility dorms at this school called Harkness College.
I don’t know if this place is real. I kind of wish it was. I want it to be real because I wish I had gone there. I’m really jealous of these people, this experience, because all the characters love this college so much. They talk about it sort of like it’s Harry Potter—you know, with the houses, but without the Sorting Hat? And I think there’s 12 houses within Harkness College. I just fell in love with the whole environment and the characters are fantastic. The emotional arc is so deep and complex, and the struggles are just eye opening, and the relationship between the two main characters is just adorable.
I love that they’re both fans of hockey, and they play this hockey game, Real Sticks—I think it’s a fake game—and that’s the thing they do at night. They play hockey together even though he has a girlfriend. And that’s something that you should know. It’s one of the reasons I was initially unsure about this book. Not just because of the disability aspect but because he has a girlfriend for the first half of the book. I thought, ‘oh cheating’, but it’s really not like that.
They become really good friends. But there isn’t any cheating in this book so don’t be too concerned about that. He has a reason for doing what he does and I think it’s a good one. It’s complex. There’s a lot of themes in this that are unexpectedly deep. I really think you should give this a try, and you’re going to love the rest of the series if you like this one. The second one is even harder hitting emotionally than this one, and the third one is, like, serious coming out angst. But anyway. OK. I think I have talked that one into the ground. That was The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen, and it is absolutely a must read.
OK. Next up is The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. This one’s from Berkeley and it is basically a reverse Pretty Woman. Now I actually did a little bit of googling while I was reading this, because when an author says the hero looks like a star or there’s some reference to somebody that they might resemble, I have to look this person up. So the hero, Michael, apparently looks like a lot like the K-drama star Daniel Henney. I actually have seen him before— he was in one of the Xmen movies.
So Michael is a prostitute, or a male escort, and he only “dates” (escorts) on Friday nights. The rest of his time is dedicated to his family and his work, and this one resonated with me on many levels. One was the closeness of his family. They are a Vietnamese family, I believe. His heritage is mixed Vietnamese and Swedish, so he sort of doesn’t fit in with the white people and he doesn’t fit in with the Asians either. He’s sort of out of place everywhere, but he’s this amazing person that I just wanted to snuggle and hug and take home with me. But other things that I liked about the story was the family dynamics that they showed us, and the hidden passion he has for this job that he had to quit so he could support his mom in her struggle with cancer. I mean, man, that one just hits that it’s home, right? That’s… wow. He also makes a lot of private sacrifices. He escorts so he can support his family so that they don’t struggle, and the thing is, they don’t even know. They don’t even know! Which, oh my god, knife the heart, like perfect hero. Perfect. I love this guy.
You know sometimes you get those questions, like, ‘Hey who’s your favorite hero?’ or ‘If you could have any hero and be stranded on a desert island or take him home’ or whatever. I can never answer that question because my default answer is always Bones from the Night Huntress series. That’s kind of a running joke with me and Sheryl because I always just throw Bones out there. While I do like Bones, there are so many other heroes that are fantastic, and Michael is one of the newest ones where if somebody asked me that question today I might say, ‘Michael from The Kiss Quotient’, because he’s so fantastic. He’s so gentle with her and he’s so understanding, and oh he’s a designer! I just like everything about this guy. I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to read it.
But aside from those things that really resonated with me, the thing that got me the most about this book, and the reason I have it on this list of four romance books that will make you a better person, is that the heroine, Stella, has high functioning autism. She has Asperger’s. And she has to carefully plan and script her day so that she can interact with people in ways that don’t trigger her. Here’s an example of a list that she gives in the book.
‘Think before you talk. Anything and everything can be an insult to someone, so when in doubt say nothing.’ Well I can totally relate to that. ‘Be nice. Sitting on your hands prevents fidgeting and it feels good.’ Okay. You can tell she comes from an upper class household here, where you don’t want to make the wrong impression physically. ‘Make eye contact. Smile, but no teeth, because that scary.’ It sort of made me giggle a little bit that somebody needs to tell themselves, ‘Don’t use your teeth when you smile because people find that threatening,’ and the person doesn’t realize that. It’s one of those social clues they just don’t get. Another one was, ‘Make eye contact for a specific amount of seconds.’ I think it’s no more than three seconds or you look creepy or threatening, and no less than three seconds or you look nervous or guilty. And that’s actually really true. And it’s kind of sad that there’s this disconnect. In order to be accepted in society, somebody has to follow these specific things because we depend so heavily on body language and non-verbal cues. And when you have to remind yourself to say please and thank you and to apologize with feeling so that people believe you.
There were so many things in this story that I saw in myself, and I was like oh my gosh, oh my gosh. When you think about autism and you think about Asperger’s syndrome, unless you are familiar and acquainted with these topics, you might think of societal stereotypes. Rain Man, who’s very extreme. Or the portrayal of Asperger’s where the person swears all the time. And I think in that respect, the media and our pop culture has done a disservice to these… I don’t want to call them disabilities, and I don’t want to call them illnesses—they’re just states of being and people are just built differently. And reading through this it sort of made me realize that maybe I fall under some of this. Maybe this affects me too, and I just haven’t realized. There’s a lot of quirks and a lot of things that I do that I compensate for that I don’t really think about anymore. I’ve just learned what’s the best way for me to do something for me to handle things emotionally. I’m very sensitive emotionally.
And at the end of this book the author has an author’s note where she talks about her struggle and being late diagnosed. She wasn’t diagnosed as a child and she recommends some books. And so I really recommend this book to anybody, even if you believe you do not have autism or you’re perfectly normal, whatever normal is. I recommend anybody read this book because it will open your eyes to the struggles that some people have. And it might make you more willing to accept other people’s quirks.
And also you’re going to fall in love with Michael because he’s the most supportive hero ever. Oh, Michael. Anyway. OK. Let’s see. Is there anything else I wanted to say. Oh you know what, one more thing about this—the heroine. She reminded me of people that I worked with when I was in tech, because she’s an economist who studies data sets and does predictive models for online purchasing, and that’s sort of similar to some of the engineers I worked with when I was in the tech industry for predicting ads and what a person might be most likely to click on in a game if you played an ad for them. But aside from the joy she finds in numbers, she just sparkles.
She’s just happy when she’s not stressed out. Little things make her happy, like she’ll clutch her phone to her chest and spin in her chair. And things like that just made me feel the joy, they made me happy, they lifted me up. In the midst of all these other things were she stressed out about how she’s going to interact with somebody. All the little things that she deals with on a daily basis are a little bit stressful to read about. But then you see her in her natural state. It just makes you appreciate what a great person she actually is. And it makes you realize that there’s so much about people that we don’t see and we don’t think about and we totally should.
OK I think I have also beat this one into the ground, so I want to encourage anybody who hasn’t read this book, please read it. If nothing else it will make you see autism differently and I think that’s really important right now, just to be educated about these things that don’t necessarily affect us. And you never know it might be something that you really connect with too.
OK. Book number three: It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday. This is number two in the Bridesmaids Behaving Badly series. This is from Forever Romance (Hachette). This story has incredible banter— this one and the next one. The banter between the hero and heroine in these is just off the charts. Awesome. Loved that in this one, both characters are lawyers, and their wit is just delightful. The two of them together, their chemistry, I mean it’s all there. You can tell these these two people are made to be together, and I love it when an author can slamdunk that chemistry, because that’s part of what pulls me into these stories. I need characters that are memorable and that that really pop that have depth and realism but also sparkle to them and a little bit of magic, and these totally do. And the way they connect is fantastic. She is literally running from her past, which is him, and he is working himself into exhaustion because he’s scared to leave his past behind. Because if he if he does then things might explode again. And he just can’t go there mentally or emotionally.
So the two of them have these things that they are fixated on that have become key parts of their personality. And that’s the reason this story is on this list. For the first, two you’re like, ‘OK disabilities. I can see how understanding those would make me a better person. What about this story is going to make me a better person?’ And what I want to really hit home here is that there are things in life that affect us that we may not even realize. There are things from childhood that affect us that we might not even remember, or maybe we do and we think about them every single day, but they really crystallize and they change aspects of your personality. They change the way you react to things. And this this book, I just felt it. I just felt it. I mean it’s a little bit New Adult angsty, which isn’t normally my thing. But I felt like the emotional arc was really strong and it was really well grounded in the history of the characters. For example, the heroine Wendy —who Noah likes to call Wendy Lou Who, which makes me laugh (her name is Wendy lou)—she has an aversion to silver dresses because of something that happened. And again, I don’t want to tell you too much. I want you to read the book.
But I started thinking about, there’s things in life that I avoid because they make me have these feelings of dread or fear or I get these flash memories of bad things that happened to me, and they might have been snapshots, moments in time. But it doesn’t matter because that’s part of me and that’s part of what’s made me who I am. But do I want to go on living that way for the rest of my life? Probably not. If I could get through those things, then maybe they won’t totally go away, but maybe they will be easier to deal with. Eventually, maybe they won’t bother me at all. That’s really why I enjoy this book, because it really hits home how those things affect us, and that you can get through them. You just have to recognize them first, and then you need a partner or friends who will be there for you and recognize what you need as well.
Another side note on this story is that this series—I haven’t read the rest of the books in the series—really looks delightful. I love that it’s about Bridezillas. Wendy is a bridesmaid for her best friend, who is Noah’s sister and is all about a low key wedding. This wedding is gonna be low key and they say ‘low key’ so many times it’s in air quotes, and the bride is anything but low key. Realistically, she wants to control everything, but she wants what she wants it to be ‘low key’. Eventually of course it becomes not low key and they just sort of accept the crazy. The groom has very small amounts of Scottish heritage and they end up switching out the tuxes for kilts and adding tartan sashes. It’s funny! There’s really some really delightful parts to this book.
There’s a bet between the hero and heroine about who can throw the best bachelor/bachelorette party and there’s some Vegas shenanigans. I just really enjoyed it, really enjoyed this story. You should absolutely read this. It has all the feels, and I teared up multiple times. I mean just loved it. Okay. That was It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday.
The last book on my list today is The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. This is from Avon Books, and it’s kind of a Beauty and the Beast story, but without the physical transformation at the end, which I like. I actually really like that about it, because real life isn’t magical and we don’t all magically recover from these horrible things that have happened to us, especially physical illnesses. He’s badly scarred. Basically, a rocket exploded in his face in war (this is a Regency era story). And so one half of his face and down to his hip and chest, all the way down to his hip is just badly burned and scarred, and so he believes he is a monster. And people treat him like a monster, except the heroine who is a seamstress and a preacher’s daughter, so she has a little bit of a gentle upbringing.
But she has her own demons in her past (no pun intended) that she’s dealing with. And it’s sort of a marriage of convenience sort of thing, which is kind of a common theme in the Regency world, but he needs an heir so that his holdings go to his son rather than his terrible relatives who are going to mismanage everything that he and his family have spent their lives building up. Which is thousands of tenants. And he’s worried that his people will end up homeless. He’s got a good reason for needing to ensure his bloodline, and it’s not just because he has pride. He wants to make sure his people are taken care of, and to do that, he needs to have a legitimate son. His previous bride saw his face, turned him down, and broke the engagement, called him a monster.
I mean right there you can tell why this book is on this list, because even if our faults are not on the outside, even if they’re not on our skin, sometimes we do feel like monsters, when we feel like people are turning us away because of something inside, because we’re bad people. And this guy has a legitimate reason to feel this way because people treat him that way. And they shouldn’t because he’s an amazing guy, and the banter here like in the last book is just fantastic. These two characters they cracked me up. This—the Duke of Ashbury—is another hero that I would put on that list of favorite heroes of all time.
Because he’s really gruff when you first get to know him, but it’s penned in such an elegant, nuanced, skilled way that you understand that his gruffness doesn’t come from him being an asshole. That’s just him. It’s partly a defense mechanism, but partly it’s funny. It’s a subtle humor that comes through. And the heroine is totally on the same level with him. And she’s a seamstress who basically was like, ‘well you know, I don’t really have better prospects and I’m going to be out on the streets soon.’ She’s in a financial bind. He’s offering to make her a Duchess. No woman in her right mind would say no to that, when you’re in a financial bind like she is. She also has another reason—she wants to help a friend of hers who’s in a situation that she really can’t get out of. So many things about this book are just fantastic. And surprisingly, this is my first Tessa Dare book. I know, right? How have I read so many Regencies, but not Tessa Dare? I am an instant fan. I just love her style. I was laughing or commiserating every few pages. I wanted to read some sections from this book because it just cracked me up so much. so I’ll read you really quickly the back.
[Back blurb read here]
That right there gives you an idea of the author’s writing style and just how fun it is. And then, one more, because there’s a cat, and I am a cat person. I have dogs too. You probably hear them in the background. Right now, they’re making so much noise. Whenever I record a podcast, my pets are like, ‘Hey let’s get Sue’s attention! It’s obviously time to be friendly!’ So they’re just saying hi.
One of the terms of her marrying him was that she could bring her cat. She didn’t actually have a cat, but she got a cat anyway because she just needed to make a demand. So here’s a little excerpt about the cat…
[excerpt read here]
All right. So that’s it for my excerpts from The Duchess Deal—I can’t read too of too much of it on the air. But if you are not a fan of Regency, this might be a really good starter for you, because it does have a lot of the customs and the typical Regency type themes, but it also has so much character, and it has a hero and heroine that are not typical for romance in general, but definitely not typical for Regency.
So that wraps up my list of 4 Romance Books That Will Make You A Better Person. I will definitely be doing other episodes featuring more diverse books, but I wanted to get this train started because I really liked these, and I think you guys are going to enjoy them as well. I am going have text reviews up for some of these books on GoodReads and Amazon. I will link to those from this episode on the InfatuatePodcast.com website if you would like to suggest some other diverse romances to me.
Please feel free to shout out to me on Twitter @GraveTells or @DaVinciKittie (or @InfatuatedPdcst). You can stop by the GraveTells Facebook page, or you can hit me up on InfatuatedPodcast.com and leave a comment. There’s so many ways you can reach out. Guys I would love to hear from you.
Coming up next on the infatuated podcast, Sheryl and I are talking about our Kindle Unlimited lists. And let me tell you, I have some books that have been there for, probably, years. So, if you want to find out what dark and dirty secrets are hiding in our KU lists, stop by the next episode of the infatuated Podcast.
Infatuated with romance and just can’t get enough? So are we. Visit InfatuatedPodcast.com for all the latest episodes, and be sure to check out today’s show notes for buy links for recommended books and bios on our guests. Want us to review a book you love? Give us a shout out! We’re on Twitter @InfatuatedPdcst or on Instagram @InfatuatedPodcast. Or, of course, you can e-mail us anytime at Romance (at) InfatuatedPodcast (dot) com. We would love to hear your thoughts about the podcast, so don’t be shy!
Until next time, read something sexy.